Mayor Eric Adams’ administration will continue to require young homeless people to enter the city’s strained adult shelter system in order to qualify for housing subsidies, despite laws meant to let teens and young adults get them through youth facilities, youth shelter providers say.

At a City Council hearing last week, young homeless people and youth shelter providers said the Adams administration has refused to honor a key piece of legislation passed by the Council in 2021, which is intended to prevent many people under the age of 25 from exiting youth shelters and entering the larger adult system just to meet the 90-day shelter stay criteria to qualify for a CityFHEPS housing voucher. The city-funded subsidy covers the bulk of the rent for low-income New Yorkers who manage to find apartments, but in order to qualify, they must first stay in a Department of Homeless Services shelter for three months.

“It's saddening to hear that when progress was thought to be made and we were finally moving to access housing, we're moving back to square one,” said Onyx Walker, a co-coordinator at the New York City Youth Action Board, which works to prevent youth homelessness, at a Council hearing on Wednesday.

The 2021 laws were designed to let teens and young adults — known as runaway and homeless youth, or RHY – use the time spent at youth shelters to count toward the 90-day stay before they can access housing vouchers, cutting red tape that has led to prolonged stays in shelters and creating a direct line to vouchers for youth shelter residents. But a dispute between city agencies on how to interpret the laws is causing strain for young people in shelters and baffling shelter providers at a time when the mayor is seeking to address record-high homelessness.

“The Department of Social Services has a duty to the young people it claims to want to help,” said Walker, who has also experienced homelessness and was involved in a yearslong effort to pass the bills.

The Department of Social Services, which controls the housing vouchers, declined requests for comment and referred questions to the two agencies that oversee youth shelters and the foster care system.

Spokespeople for the Department of Youth and Community Development and the Administration for Children’s Services said time spent in youth shelters or foster care will count toward the 90-day eligibility requirement, but did not say why young people will have to enter the Department of Homeless Services’ shelter system to qualify in the first place.

City Hall did not answer questions about whether housing vouchers will be issued directly to people in youth shelters. Kate Smart, a spokesperson for City Hall, said that residents of youth shelters can currently qualify for CityFHEPS vouchers without entering the city’s adult system. A modest pilot program has provided vouchers directly to residents of youth shelters, but is set to end by June.

But several shelter providers, advocates and homeless youths say the city has told them that young people will once again have to enter adult facilities when the pilot expires.

DYCD and ACS initially seemed to support the view that young people should get vouchers without going into adult shelters, according to Jamie Powlovich, executive director of the Coalition for Homeless Youth.

Powlovich said the laws empower the agencies overseeing youth shelters and the foster care system to issue the vouchers to their clients, but DSS has said they first have to secure additional funding to administer them.

DSS officials told Powlovich in November 2022 that the city’s Law Department was brought in to settle the dispute between the agencies and sided with DSS officials. She said her organization has asked DSS several times to share the Law Department’s opinion but has not received a response.

The Law Department directed questions to DYCD and ACS.

Under the new laws, about 240 young people would be eligible for vouchers without entering the adult shelter system each year, according to fiscal impact statements accompanying both bills.

Powlovich, whose organization represents youth shelter providers, said cutting off a direct line of access to CityFHEPS vouchers would be “illogical” and the “exact opposite of the intent of the legislation when we fought for it to be passed.”

Former Councilmember Stephen Levin, who introduced the two laws, agreed.

“The intention was to make sure youth aging out of foster care and aging out of the [youth] system don’t have to go into adult shelter in order to obtain a CityFHEPS voucher,” said “We were confident that that’s what the legislation did.”

More than 70,000 people stayed in city shelters on Jan. 19, including nearly 21,000 single adults, according to the city’s daily shelter census. The DHS shelter population has far surpassed record levels but does not include New Yorkers staying in shelter systems run by other agencies or facilities specifically set aside for recently arrived migrants.

The roughly 700-bed youth system has hovered at or near its capacity, City Limits reported in September, with more than 99 beds that were shut down last year but have yet to reopen.

Julie Farber, executive director of Covenant House, the largest youth shelter provider in New York City, said the decision has real consequences for young people “shocked” to learn they will have to enter the adult system to access a voucher.

“Youth in the RHY system are homeless,” Farber said. “They need access to the full range of housing resources, including CityFHEPS vouchers.”